Heather Knight's first byline as San Francisco Bureau Chief for the New York Times is a story about how everyone in the country — including self-satisfied New Yorkers who haven't been here in years — has bought into the narrative that SF is a hellhole now.
Former Chronicle columnist Heather Knight left her longtime post at the Chron this summer, and as we learned two months ago, she landed the plum role as San Francisco Bureau Chief for the Times. We'll now be seeing more of her coverage of SF and NorCal — she replaces the bureau chief of seven years Thomas Fuller — and, perhaps appropriately, her first piece to appear in the Times is this one, headlined, "San Francisco Residents Tired of City's Negative Reputation."
The piece is accompanied by photos of a happier, sunnier SF by local Times photographer Jim Wilson.
As Knight explains to non-SF readers, people who live here are "finding it a daunting task" to convince anyone from the outside that San Francisco isn't a hellscape of doom-loop vacancy and misery, though there are some blocks downtown that will support that story. It is, in fact, a multi-faceted city with plenty of neighborhoods that are back to their old selves. And it's still expensive to live here, so much so that arriving AI-boom techies are opting for cheap sleeping pods to save on rent.
But given that this is the Times, we need to hear some New Yorkers' perspectives, and this is where we find fresh evidence that the Fox News and Newsmax narrative about San Francisco going to the liberal dogs has penetrated well beyond just Republican circles.
28-year-old consultant James Falino, who moved here from New York before the pandemic in 2018, tells Knight that when he goes back to New York now and tells friends that he lives in San Francisco they're mostly "aghast," saying things like, "Are you OK?"
And Brooklynite Karan Mathur, who moved there from San Francisco last year, says that people "congratulate" him for having fled SF — and he makes the comparison of people thinking that the entire city is like the Tenderloin as "It’s like going to New York and spending your entire time in Times Square, and your takeaway is, every New Yorker is dressed like Cookie Monster."
Knight, in her role as the milder version of C.W. Nevius at the Chronicle, giving voice to the fed up and irritated among city residents and calling out City Hall's failings, did her share of contributing to the "doom loop" narrative, though she had been cautious to balance her negative reporting with positive things, like that weird campaign to crown a "city animal."
Now, as a more long-term San Francisco resident than her predecessor bureau chief at the Times, Knight will hopefully help tell the story of the city to Times readers who haven't gotten a very nuanced picture of how things are.
One resident she quotes, 36-year-old Richmond District resident Bobby Pierce, takes a longer view of San Francisco's current PR problem: "When I was growing up, the meme of San Francisco was that it was this ungodly gay place, and before that, it was hippies. It’s never had a nationally savory reputation, I suppose, which is maybe what draws me to it."
Photo: Erik House